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OutRun Online Arcade – Review

There was a handful of Ferraris to choose from; unfortunately they all performed the same.

OutRun Online Arcade, a downloadable racing game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 won’t be available to purchase soon. It has already been delisted from PlayStation Network and will be delisted from Xbox Live Arcade in December. It’s the most recent release in the long-running racing series, although it’s basically OutRun 2 SP, a previous game in the series. It’s my first experience with the series however and I think it’s a fun racing game that’s not too serious. It was developed by Sumo Digital and published by Sega in April 2009.

OutRun is a series focused on driving Ferraris, and Online Arcade is no exception, which is also why the game is being delisted; Sega’s license with Ferrari is expiring soon. There are a handful of different Ferraris to choose from, but these seem like the most popular lot.

The stages look incredible, but it's hard to get anything more than a glimpse when you're driving so fast.

In the main gameplay mode, OutRun mode, I raced against the clock aiming to reach checkpoints to extend the timer. There are multiple, branching routes to take, another hallmark of the series, and I had to complete five in any order. Before each checkpoint, I had the option of taking a left route or a right route, leading me through different locations; all together totaling fifteen stages. Besides simply finishing, I was aiming for a high score; the faster I completed the mode and the more cars I passed, the better my score.

Besides, OutRun mode there was Time Attack, Continuous Race, and Heart Attack. Time Attack is just as it sounds: a race against the clock, unlike OutRun mode however, there is no traffic. Continuous Race had me racing through all fifteen stages in either OutRun mode or Time Attack mode. Lastly was Heart Attack mode. This was OutRun mode, but I had to do special actions that my passenger would request of me. After each checkpoint, I was graded on how well I did them. And as the title suggests there’s also an online mode, but I was lucky to find two other people online.

The Heart Attack mode added diversity to the package.

OutRun Online Arcade’s roots are in the arcade; as such the gameplay is quick-paced and great for short gameplay sessions. Whenever I played, I played a few races at a time, aiming to get a specific achievement. OutRun Online Arcade doesn’t have a lot of content to offer, seeing everything won’t take long, but I found the achievements to be challenging and provided enough incentive for me to replay the game often, attempting to shave a few more seconds off my best time. I think it’s worth checking out before it is delisted permanently.

4/5

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Hamiton’s Great Adventure – Demo Impressions

Reminiscent of Indiana Jones, Hamilton's Great Adventure is charming puzzle game.

Hamilton’s Great Adventure is a charming puzzle video game. It was released for the PC earlier in the year, but just came out as a PlayStation Network game this week. It was developed and published by Fatshark, one of the teams that emerged after the dissolution of Grin.

I thought the perspective the game was told from was very interesting. The titular character Ernest Hamilton is now a grandfather and he’s babysitting his granddaughter. He tells her of his adventures when he was younger. For the player, this played out as a sepia-toned photograph slideshow, setting up the plot.

Hamilton and his professor friend had built an amazing contraption, but a thief has stolen a valuable part from it: the Fluxatron. The Professor believes he knows who the thief is, and suggests Hamilton should search the jungles of South America.

I controlled a young Hamilton as he traversed stages of platforms attempting to get a key which would unlock the exit. The pathways were linear early on in the demo, forcing me to go a specific route as I learned the ropes. The last couple of stages however were quite challenging. They were much larger and contained many obstacles; figuring these out required a multistep approach. Collecting every pickup enticed me into replaying stages too.

While this stage may seem daunting, you just have to take it one step at a time.

I enjoyed the gameplay and the control I had over Hamilton. He was not alone; I would occasionally have to take control of Sasha, his parrot to flip a switch; this added another element of puzzle solving. As I said earlier, I liked the narrative, it was fun and the characters were comedic. The music really stood out in the demo, it was very relaxing. The few stages the demo showed ranged from easy to challenging and I hope the game has a worthwhile amount of stages. I think Hamilton’s Great Adventure is a charming puzzle game and well worth ten dollars.

Dead Block – Demo Impressions

Dead Block looks awfully similar to Team Fortress 2...

Dead Block is a downloadable action-strategy game for the Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3; I played the demo on the PS3. It is set in the United States during the 1950s. Just as rock ‘n’ roll is coming to prominence, a zombie outbreak has occurred. Controlling three separate characters I had to survive a zombie onslaught while attempting to find all the pieces to guitar set. Once found, I would play a simple rhythm minigame to complete a stage.

The demo began with an introduction reminiscent to that of a TV show, and sure enough, each stage in Dead Block begins that way, as if each stage is a TV episode. I began playing as a construction worker named Jack Foster. I thought the camera was too close behind him, frequently making it hard to see things directly in front of him or on the ground.

He was inside a house and I first had to put wood over windows to prevent zombies from getting inside. I soon ran out of wood and had to break furniture for more lumber; I thought this was a novel idea. I was then tasked with searching the house. As I did so I came across much more furniture to break, windows to board up, and other objects that I could search inside of. Inside these objects I would find nuts (necessary for building traps), keys, and hopefully a complete guitar and amplifier set.

There are three total characters that I could control and switch between on the fly, although only two were present in the demo. Besides Jack Foster, I could play as Mike Bacon, an overweight boy scout. I was able to summon him to any area of a stage and he would proceed to break furniture and search for items. In other words, my ally was able to take care of himself.

Dead Block didn’t have the most original premise (remember Stubbs the Zombie in Rebel without a Pulse?) and really it didn’t have the most original gameplay. After all, it pretty much is the zombie mode from the Call of Duty series. But at ten dollars it’s not too pricey and I found the demo pleasant, but I don’t have any interest in playing any more of Dead Block.

Grandia – Review

The title card for Grandia.

That Grandia was released recently on the PlayStation Network is a coincidence to my play through of the game. I had purchased it earlier in the year and finally got around to playing it, coincidentally it was released on the PSN a week or so later so this review is relatively timely. Prior to my play through of Grandia, my only other experience with the series was a play through of Grandia II on the Dreamcast which I remember loving, but I’m unsure if I finished it. Personally I’m a fan of more action-orientated RPGs and Grandia is one of, if not the best.

Grandia opens up in a somewhat bustling port town and quickly introduces the player to Justin and Sue, two young kids who are playful and not very serious. Nevertheless Justin is intent on becoming an adventurer like his father and Sue would follow Justin anywhere so she’s up for it as well. While the initial premise for the game is one that is often used, the game’s story gets deeper as Justin and crew learn of a mysterious ancient civilization that once perished. As they search for this ancient civilization they run into trouble with an army lead by a power monger and go through a few non-permanent party members. The story is very light and comedic, with an overarching sense of seriousness.

Justin and Sue standing next to a save point.

Like I said earlier, Grandia is more action-orientated than a traditional turn-based RPG; however this element of control is kind of a façade as the battles are ultimately a turn-based affair. In a dungeon you can see any enemy before battling, as opposed to random encounters; once you’ve run into an enemy or vice versa, you’re shifted into a battle scene. Along the bottom of the screen is a meter that shows icons representing your party members and all enemies; the icons move from left to right until one hits the command point. Here the battle will pause and you can tell that party member what to do. There is still a bit of time before they enact whatever you told them to do and this allows for strategy and planning as you can delay and cancel enemy moves based on when and what attack you hit them with.

There are many options when in battle: normal attacks, critical attacks which delay or potentially cancel depending on when landed, special moves, magic and items. One of the more interesting, and addicting, elements of battling is that every special move and magic attack has its own level that increases as you use it. The characters level relatively slowly but having all of these moves that are going up frequently gave a good sense of progression and feeling of accomplishment. Of course with any RPG that has magic there are elements of strengths and weaknesses but I never paid attention to this facet, probably due to my want to just level up everything, and this worked for me. The battles were fast-paced and fun, I looked forward to battling every enemy and leveling up many different things made me not want to skip out on fights.

Justin, Sue and Feena in a battle.

The soundtrack, like the story, was lighthearted; many of the tracks were quirky, with unusual sounds and upbeat tempos, matching the game’s tone. There were a few standout tracks that I really enjoyed listening to and I can’t say there were any I disliked. The voice acting on the other hand was quite poor. The voice acting was infrequent throughout the game and when there was any, what the characters said, would never seem to match the tone of the situation at that moment. Grandia is set a 3D world, with characters, buildings and other objects being made of 2D sprites. This mixture of old and new (at the time) graphics give it a feeling reminiscent of the “golden age” of the JRPG, while still progressing technologically. I’ve already mentioned that the game’s story and soundtrack were lighthearted and fun, and the look of the game matches. Grandia is set in a colorful world with interesting character designs and locales.

Grandia cost me fifteen dollars and I put fifty-plus hours into it, and had fun the majority of the time. If you’re someone like me, who likes owning a physical copy of your games and having the chance to look through the manual, I’d recommend seeking out a copy of Grandia rather than purchasing it off of the PSN, but maybe do that as well to support it! Grandia’s manual is robust, and while much of it is explaining relatively basic mechanics of the game, which if you haven’t played a Grandia title will be very beneficial, I did get stuck on a boss and consulting it did help me.

I loved Grandia. It’s quickly become one of my favorite JRPGs and even after I beat it, I can imagine wanting to play more to level up the rest of my party’s stats. It’s a long game with rare feelings of tediousness and overall, it was a lighthearted, adventurous romp through a colorful world, which is a great escape from the current market of more adult, serious games.